CSIS head warns that reports of Canadian extremists killed aren't always accurate

OTTAWA -- Experience has taught the head of the country's spy agency that reports of suspected Canadian extremists being killed overseas should be taken with a grain of salt.

See Full Article

Michel Coulombe, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, says claims of Canadians killed fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant have in the past turned out to be wrong.

Coulombe, testifying Monday before the Senate defence and security committee, wouldn't comment specifically on the case of Owais Egwilla, an Ottawa-area university student whose cleric father encouraged Libyans to "take part in jihad."

Published reports say Egwilla was a member of the Omar Al-Mukhtar Brigade militia -- something the spy director would not confirm. Nor would he say whether the young man -- or his father Abdu Albasset Egwilla, a Libyan-Canadian cleric -- had been under surveillance.

"I'm not saying that I doubt this person is dead," he told reporters following the hearing. "What I've said and we've seen this a number of times, people are reported as being killed, just to resurface two, three, four weeks, a month later on Twitter or Facebook."

Word of Egwilla's death came through social media from accounts associated with Libyan fighters. He was reportedly killed fighting government forces near the embattled city of Benghazi.

The situation in many failed states is chaotic and Coulombe says the agency attempts to verify extremist deaths.

"All I'm saying, and I'm not talking specifically this last report from Libya, we have to be really careful before jumping to the firm conclusion that somebody was killed," he said.

Foreign Affair Minister Stephane Dion confirmed his department was aware of the report, but couldn't shed any more light on it.

"We are looking at that, but I have no details to communicate," he said.

About 180 Canadians are suspected of being involved in terrorist-related activities overseas, approximately 100 of whom are in Iraq and Syria, the director testified, repeating numbers that were recently updated and released.

An additional 60 are reportedly back in Canada after taking part in extremist activities and roughly 90 would-be jihadists are attempting to leave the country to join the fighting in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Conservative Sen. Daniel Lang was mystified at the notion people who had potentially taken part in terrorist activities abroad or were known sympathizers are allowed to walk the streets.

"My understanding is, it's against the law," he said. "Am I missing something here?"

Dealing with suspected terrorists is the job of law enforcement, particularly the RCMP, Coulombe said.

He did say, however, that much of the surveillance information gathered by CSIS does not meet the threshold of the justice system and it's up to the Mounties to build a criminal case.

The director said gathering evidence of terrorist activity -- acceptable to a Canadian court -- in countries torn by violence and civil war is extremely difficult.

"It's not a simple task," he said. "The RCMP would be better placed to explain the challenges."

Coulombe also revealed Monday that the spy service's newly enhanced powers to disrupt terrorist activity under the former Harper government's Bill C-51 have been used on a half-dozen occasions.

But he underlined that the "threat-reduction measures" used were carried out without the need for a Federal Court warrant and in some cases simply involved letting suspects know they were under suspicion.


Latest Canada & World News

  • Russia readies to hand Putin new term in presidential vote

    World News CTV News
    MOSCOW -- Russian voters are gearing up for a presidential election Sunday that Vladimir Putin is guaranteed to win. They are facing unusually intense pressure to vote, to grant him a convincing new mandate to pursue his nationalist strategy. Source
  • Purported prison ID of gangster 'Whitey' Bulger up for sale

    World News CTV News
    BOSTON -- The purported prison identification card of Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger is on the auction block. Lelands.com is selling the badge, which features Bulger's picture, birthday and Federal Bureau of Prisons ID number. Source
  • Search continues for 10-year-old Montreal boy missing since Monday

    Canada News CTV News
    Montreal police are spending another day searching backyards and going door to door in the search for a 10-year-old boy who has been missing for days. Police spokeswoman Andree-Anne Picard says officers expect to finish that portion of the search later today. Source
  • Like a 'wall of hate': Calgary neighbourhood sick of spring-related stink

    Canada News CTV News
    Spring is in the air in a southwest Calgary neighbourhood, but the change of season has some residents turning up their noses over a putrid smell wafting into their basements. Bob Clark describes the odour as a “wall of hate” and not unlike an outhouse. Source
  • Trump lauds firing of ex-top FBI official Andrew McCabe as 'great day'

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he has fired Andrew McCabe, a former FBI deputy director who was a regular target of U.S. President Donald Trump's anger and criticism, just two days before McCabe's scheduled retirement date. Source
  • Vladimir Putin's power: From mean streets to Kremlin

    World News CTV News
    MOSCOW -- As a kid in a dismal Soviet communal apartment, Vladimir Putin was a scrapper who dreamed of being an operator -- diligently training in martial arts and boldly walking into a KGB office to inquire about how to become a spy. Source
  • How journalism prompted a closer look at 14 deaths in the U.K. with Russian connections

    World News CBC News
    In the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K. earlier this month — an incident that the governments of the U.K., U.S., France, Germany and Canada now say it is "highly likely" were ordered by the Kremlin — the deaths of more than a dozen others in the U.K. Source
  • Answer to cities' parking woes could be found at fire hydrants: fire chief

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- A coalition of firefighters, city engineers and administrators is proposing a novel solution to city parking woes. Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis says shrinking the no-stopping zone around fire hydrants could create hundreds of new parking spots in congested cities. Source
  • 'If you have our child, bring him back to us': Search continues for missing Montreal boy

    Canada News CBC News
    The search resumes for a missing 10-year-old boy this weekend in Montreal, after a vigil rooted in hope made its way to the doorstep of his family home late Friday. Ariel Jeffrey Kouakou was last seen Monday afternoon after leaving his home in Ahuntsic-Cartierville to walk to a friend's house. Source
  • North Korean minister meets again with Swedish counterpart

    World News CTV News
    STOCKHOLM -- North Korea's foreign minister met again Saturday with his Swedish counterpart amid growing speculation about a possible meeting in the Scandinavian country between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Source